Active Outdoors: Winter storm Stella should stretch out ski season

  • If you can get two or three runs in snow with no tracks on a powdery morning, you are doing well. Savor the moment because soon enough you’ll be looking for little pockets of fresh powder to make your turns in. TIM JONES / Courtesy

  • Waiting for Joy. On a powder morning at Sunday River, waiting for that lift to start turning is tough. You know the untracked snow will disappear quickly. TIM JONES / Courtesy

  • The next step in the evolution of a powder day is pillowy powder bumps like these on the Obsession trail at Sunday River. Great way to get your thighs in shape for all the spring skiing to come. TIM JONES / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Thursday, March 16, 2017

So, how much snow did you get from the recent storm? More importantly, have you gotten out and enjoyed it?

Every ski area in New England, New York and Quebec got at least a foot of snow, most got closer to 2 feet. Some got even more.

Whaleback a community-owned ski area in New Hampshire had been closed for lack of snow but was reopening on 20 inches of new snow as I wrote this. Jay Peak and Northern Vermont hit the jackpot, claiming 69 inches of snow in the last seven days. Mont Sutton just across the border in Quebec, got 53 inches, with more than 40 inches falling in 24 hours.

Truly an epic storm. Maybe we’ll be lucky and get another one before the winter of 2016-17 ends. I almost feel sorry for the people who got fooled by the warm February weather and hoped spring was coming early.

Almost ... Nah, not really. We live in New England. Spring doesn’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) arrive here until well into April.

Looking out at the extended weather forecasts, it appears we are in for a slow arrival of spring, which should keep us skiing for at least another few weeks. Summer’s going to be long, why not savor winter while we have it?

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Powder quest

While checking out the first annual Mount Washington Backcountry Ski Festival on a very cold and windy Saturday morning, I chatted with some meteorologists from the Mount Washington Observatory who seemed (privately, anyway) very certain that we were in for a big snow dump from winter storm Stella on Tuesday afternoon They showed me several of the computer models they use to make forecast predictions and explained why, in this situation, some were more trustworthy than others. Fascinating stuff.

Based on that, I went online looking for a slopeside room for Tuesday night. Slopeside was essential; I didn’t want to take a chance on not being able to get to a ski area for first chair Wednesday. With many options possible, and considering other factors like in-hotel restaurants, direct lift access from the room (I didn’t want to rely on a shuttle), potential wind holds from strong northeast winds in blizzard conditions, and even comfortable beds, I eventually settled on the Grand Summit at Sunday River.

It was already snowing when we left the house Tuesday morning and snowing hard by the time we got to the hotel. My sweetheart is not one for skiing in the teeth of a blizzard, so she sat by the fire and read while I suited up, put on a face mask and headed out looking for developing powder stashes.

Typical blizzard conditions. With the wind blowing the snow in sidewise, the trails were inconsistent – firm and wind-scoured in one spot, soft, deep drifts only a few feet away. In the flat light, it was hard to tell what your next turn would be so you had to stay ready for anything. The woods got better with each run as long as you avoided where other skiers had scraped the powder off the hard crust beneath. All in all, a great afternoon of skiing while others huddled indoors.

After a good night’s sleep (love the boyne beds at both Sugarloaf and Sunday River) and a seriously calorie-rich breakfast, we were waiting in line under bright blue sunny skies for the White Cap quad to start turning. Our strategy on powder mornings is to find trails that other people ignore, and we made three totally joyous runs down Wildfire while everyone else fought for freshies on more popular trails.

Em savored the freshly groomed soft corduroy she loves while I played in knee deep powder.

When that got all tracked up, we switched to the often-ignored Little Whitecap Quad, where we could ride up together and Em could ski groomed intermediate terrain on Starlight while I played in the trees of the Starstruck and Starwood glades. When she took a break, I took one l-o-n-g run on Obsession, which was now covered in soft powder bumps. Thigh burner!

By noon, the clouds were rolling in, our legs were shot, so we packed up and headed home. Definitely a top-five ski day in what has been a great year so far. You always hope for a powder morning like that in mid-March, but don’t always get it.

Demo ski delight

Sadly, we can’t all own the right skis for every snow condition, but there’s an easy and inexpensive answer: Demo skis.

I have a large “quiver” of skis to choose from, but my sweetheart Em skis mostly on firm corduroy, so her only pair of skis was picked for exactly that. When there’s fresh powder or spring corn coming, we head to Stan and Dan’s Sports in North Conway and rent a pair of demo skis that let her explore confidently on softer snow.

We keep going back to Stan and Dan’s rather than renting in a busy on-mountain shop because they take the time to ask the right questions and select the right skis for her ability and the conditions we are expecting. This time, they sent her off with a pair of Head “Total Joy” women’s skis. She felt “Total Joy,” on them from the first turn and simply raved about how she’d never enjoyed soft snow so much.

There’s only one problem, Dan Lewis hit a home run with these skis. On the one hand, it was wonderful to see her so excited about skiing conditions she doesn’t usually enjoy. On the other hand, now I have to figure out how to buy her a pair.

(Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. He can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)